ETA Reflection During the Quarantine
Published Date : Jul 21, 2020
Due to the COVID-19, all American Fulbrighters had to made a tough decision to depart earlier than planned. It was a time fulled with confusion and frustration. However, Anika Patel, 2019 grantee under Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) Program, found a comfort zone at her house with memories and thought from experiences in Thailand.
Back in March, like many others, my Fulbright tenure was cut short due to COVID. In 5 short days I was sent home. I tried to prepare myself for what I expected to be a disorienting return to what was not quite home. I felt full speed ahead in Thailand, and was trying to maintain that mindset upon my return home by outlining various projects for myself that would allow me to continue my exploration of Thai language, culture, food, and relationship building remotely. Or, rather, I see now that I was trying to hold onto the adventure that was unequivocally over; it was my attempt to bridge what felt like an insurmountable gap between what was and what was about to be.
Soon enough, I realized I needed to slow down so that I could have the space and time to reclaim my Fulbright experience by parsing through all the love that I felt from all corners of Thailand in the most beautiful 6 months. To my surprise, while I grieved and reclaimed my Thai adventures, I found empowerment, curiosity, and drive from a space I was always too intimidated in the past to explore: my Indian heritage. Growing up, although my parents were Indian immigrants, I never felt “Indian enough,” as I could not speak Hindi, and felt like I did not know enough about the culture to claim my Indian identity. I never knew where to start when it came to trying to better understand my own culture. It was a goal of mine in Thailand to dive deeper into my Indian background by understanding India’s deep linguistic, religious, and cultural influences in Thailand. However, it was a goal that was never met. Quarantine afforded me uninterrupted processing time to think back on what I learned in Thailand from a bird’s-eye view, which gave me the footing I needed to launch myself deep into an exploration of India, and more importantly, where my family began.
I started off with cooking Indian food, and cooking soon became what felt like a full time job. I bothered my parents for many days to walk me through our giant pantry of spices, which in the past felt like terra incognita. I learned how closely related the underlying concepts behind making Thai food was to that of Indian food. The excitement of this discovery propelled me forward towards wanting to learn about the difference in food, and therefore culture, of different parts of India. Over the past three months, I’ve transitioned back and forth between Thai and Indian food. At times, I feel like a mad scientist – when I feel creative, I get a strong urge to act on those ideas immediately, even if it means at 2 am! In a time of great pain, it was India, of all things, that somehow seemed to help me make sense of the world and allowed me to begin to meld my two worlds together, my American upbringing and the life I led in Thailand. And like many of us in quarantine, I’m on the same journey of accessing a part of me that I never knew.
After graduating from the University of Washington with a B.S. in Biochemistry and Interdisciplinary Honors, I moved to Thailand to teach English as a Fulbright Scholar. I was placed in Ban Fon, a semi-rural community within Lampang Province. There, I constructed a curriculum and taught English to 1st – 9th graders, and was honored to not only develop relationships with my students and understand their backgrounds, but to also be in a position where I could provide them with unconditional support. Despite the socioeconomic challenges they faced at home, I found my students to be incredibly resilient; in trying times, I would often observe them acting like young-adults, rather than the kids they were meant to be. I spent my last month in Thailand interning for the Ministry of Public Health’s International Cooperation Agency, working to relay COVID-19 information and regulation updates between the Ministry, the general public, and foreign embassies that visited our office. While my time in Thailand was cut short due to COVID, I have continued my work with the International Cooperation Agency, drafting updates on the current situation, both within Thailand and globally. Since returning home early, my plans for this year have shifted. Instead of continuing work in Thailand, I will instead be starting medical school at Creighton this August, and am eager to use my newly enhanced cultural dialogue and ethnocultural empathy as instruments to better understand my patients’ experience. I am excited to serve Thailand again in the future, but as a doctor.
Credit: Fulbridge (https://fulbridge.org/w/returning-home-anika-patel-2019-2020-eta-to-thailand/)